Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Kindling interest in e-books

After a few months and many hundreds/thousands of kilometres travelling with my kindle, I think it is time to document some of my thoughts on the whole e-reading experience.

Firstly, and I emphasise this, a kindle is not an iPad. It is a non-backlit dedicated e-Reader, which I charged exactly twice in 10 weeks of travel. Think of it as a glorified book (d'oh) that holds more books than I could read in a year, is smaller and lighter than a single book (and an iPad), and which downloads books via wireless from Amazon wherever you happen to be in the world (so long as you have the 3G version).

I emphasise this because I fielded a lot of comments about why I didn't get an iPad. It was an easy decision for me, because I was already taking a netbook computer with me, having dismissed an iPad as an option for writing and blogging. (The on-screen touch keyboard just doesn't do it for me.) So with a computer in tow, a dedicated e-Reader was all I needed. Besides, a kindle is cheaper, smaller, and lighter than an iPad, with much longer battery life. (Interestingly, two of my travel buddies had reached exactly the same conclusion and were also travelling with netbook and kindle.)

I have found the kindle experience a highly positive one. The screen is easy on the eyes, and it doesn't seem to worry me that I'm turning the page more frequently than I would a paperback. It's easy to hold, making a huge difference when reading on my side. Moreover, you can place it on your lap, or a table, and eat/use cutlery while reading. This is brilliant for eating/reading on planes, or solo cafe experiences.

I have massively enjoyed the portability -- it fits easily in most of my handbags -- and the availability of books via Amazon is simply fantastic. Just this evening, I realised that I'm about to finish the fantasy novel I'm reading (part 1 of a trilogy), so I went to Amazon and downloaded the next one. And the books from Amazon are significantly cheaper than paperbacks here in Australia, particularly with the Aussie dollar doing so well. Less than half the price.

Having said all that, there is one particular aspect of paperback reading that I miss when reading on the kindle. No matter what anyone says, it is not easy to flick through the pages of an e-book. I do this quite a bit with a paperback, usually. Often it's to refer back to a description or passage of relevance, or to consult the map at the beginning of the book in some fantasy novels. Sometimes it's to see how far to the end of the chapter or section, or to see when the next section dealing with a certain character is due, or . . . well, sometimes I take a peek at the end of the book.

I also like having hard copies on the bookshelf in the living room. It reminds me of what I have read, what I want to read, and often what I've half read from all the bookmarks sticking out. Having books around is homey and comforting. Although I've heard people say they would miss the 'smell of the pages', I don't find this is the case with me; but I still like the tangibility of a live book.

Some other thoughts:
- the user interface is a bit clunky, but if you don't try anything too complex, it's fine
- the fledgling e-book industry is guaranteed to change over the next few years, and who knows whether the kindle will be my reader of choice? I may need to accept that my kindle books become obsolete from a technology point of view.
- the formatting on some books can be a little haphazard, and I've noticed more typos than usual in the book I'm currently reading. I presume these are not present in the print edition.
- the kindle does not read e-Pub files, or any other proprietary files. This effectively limits me to Amazon.
- The number of titles available on kindle is good, so long as you're looking for classics or recent books. Moreover, here in Australia there are further limitations due to digital rights management. Sometimes a book I want is available for US readers but not me!
- I can't lend books that I purchase on the kindle
- Amazon makes it frighteningly easy to purchase books!

At this stage, it's too early to tell how much kindle reading I'll do in the future. I have the feeling that if I see a book I want to read in a bookshop, I'm still quite likely to buy it, particularly if I know and like the author. Also, I have a gazillion unread paperbacks on my shelf. But it's more than likely that many of the other benefits of the kindle will see me continuing down the e-book path. I'm just going to hope that the rumours of 'bundled books', where you can buy the same book in both formats, eventuate and prove cost-viable.


  1. Interesting. Thanks heaps for the review. I definitely like the idea of being able to download books "frighteningly" easy and quickly.

    I will probably stick to the paper copies for now, but you do make it enticing.


  2. Good points here, Ellen. Thanks for directing me here.
    Yes, I do worry about not being able to access ebooks other than Kindles, and also about where they go when my Kindle account dies.
    But I have heard other people say that when they read a book they really love on Kindle, they go and buy a paper copy to keep!

  3. On the subject of obsolesence, I'm trying to take the attitude that there are too many books in the world for me to be re-reading them, so in theory it shouldn't matter if my kindle dies and I don't replace it... Having said that, there will hopefully be a kindle app for whatever smartphone/device I happen to have by then, so if I really want to re-read then I can (Amazon stores them if you need to re-download)! I also think that the market and file compatibility will open up and become easier to cross-devices etc. It's all changing so fast that I went for the cheapest/most convenient combination available to me a year ago. And I haven't regretted it. Now there is certainly more choice, though. The decision would be much harder for me now!